Game-day gourmet: It's the time of year for pigskin pigging out



This time of year, you gotta love Sundays: The glowing gridiron, the sizzle of pigskin, the crunch of ribs and other bones, the chips falling where they may.

And I'm not talking about just the sport of football, but also the big feasts that go hand-in-mouth with watching the games.

Whether they tailgate in the parking lot or park their butts on the couch, there's something about watching football that makes people ravenous.

"Other sports, you don't think like that. Who cooks a big meal for watching a baseball game?" asks cookbook author Ray Lampe. "Football just has that for whatever reason."

As the season fires up -- the Pittsburgh Steelers open the regular season Sunday against the Houston Texans at Heinz Field -- many football fans will gobble up two new football cookbooks that are just hitting the market.

Mr. Lampe, a k a "Dr. BBQ," who's written three books on that subject, offers one titled "The NFL Gameday Cookbook: 150 Recipes to Feed the Hungriest Fan from Preseason to the Super Bowl" (Chronicle, $24.95).

The National Football League is officially a co-author of the book, which bears its logo and statistical info about each team, plus a snapshot of each hometown's food scene (Pittsburgh's mentions, of course, the Primanti's sandwich).

But the recipes don't come from, nor are they attached to, specific teams or towns.

"Being an old Bears fan, I knew if I made it 'The Green Bay Packers Mac and Cheese Soup,' I would never make that," the now-Floridian says over the phone from a gig in California. "I might not even buy the book!"

So instead, the recipes are organized as in any cookbook -- in categories from appetizers to desserts -- with Mr. Lampe making suggestions for dishes that he thinks would fit a game-day party in particular places, considering factors such as geography and time zone (Northern teams might like hotter, heartier fare, while West Coasters may be more likely to start tailgating at breakfast).

Thus, his clever recipe for Mac and Cheese Soup he suggests for Pittsburgh, which also can embrace its gold color. Another suggested recipe sweetly sorta represents our beloved color black: Doenee's Nutella Bars. (Recipes here.)

Mr. Lampe provides basic information on equipment and planning and menu plans for special feasts such as the Super Bowl. But he knows that this isn't rocket science. "It's not a fan book. It's not a history of tailgating. It's a cookbook for tailgaters to use."

He means the book to be as useful at home, not just at the stadium parking lot. No matter where you prepare and eat it, he believes good football food should be quick to make and/or makeable ahead. And he worked hard for balance between recipes basic and more advanced. As he puts it, "I know there are guys now that like to cook more complicated things."

Game-day gourmands will find more interesting recipes in another book just hitting stores this week: "The Sunday Night Football Cookbook: 150 Great Family Recipes from America's Pro Chefs and NFL Players" (NBC Sports and Time, $27.95). It bears not only the NFL's logo but also NBC's and has introductions by John Madden and Faith Hill.

Part of the proceeds from this book will go to food banks around the country via the charity Feeding America (the new name of America's Second Harvest) and Taste of the NFL, the league's huge Super Bowl feed that pairs chefs and players from all 32 NFL cities to raise money and awareness for hunger relief.

So this book includes recipes from dozens of chefs who've been involved in that effort (including Bobby Flay) as well as from Mr. Madden and other broadcasters and players (not to mention "Faith Hill's Greek Salad").

And this book is organized not only by type of food but also by NFL regions and teams. Steelers fans who head right to the North chapter to look for black-and-gold pages will find a recipe for Bison Burgers from "the Bus," running back-turned-NBC "Football Night in America" analyst Jerome Bettis.

Five recipes bear the Steelers logo:

Superstar receiver Hines Ward contributed Korean-Style Braised Short Ribs and is quoted as saying his Korean mom "would often make a big tub of ribs for special occasions, like my birthday. I still prefer her Korean ribs to anyone else's."

Rookie receiver Limas Sweed contributes Chicken and Shrimp Fettuccine, "one of the things that I like to eat day in and day out."

Three fancier recipes come from Pittsburgh-area chefs. One is Peppery Glazed Chicken Wings with Garlic Chips from Anthony Zallo at Downtown's Bigelow Grille, who will be preparing this dish for the next Taste of the NFL event in Tampa in February (you can taste a version at the restaurant now).

Fiery Filet Mignon with Corn Cakes as well as Asian-Style Salmon Soba Noodles come from multiple Taste of the NFL veteran Bob Malone, formerly of Treesdale Golf and Country Club and now chef/owner at The Camelot banquet hall in Warrendale.

Of course, there's no reason to cook in one division, as chefs and players from other places contribute interesting fare, from a Houston chef's Chipotle Beef Tenderloin with Red and Green Chimichurri to Oakland Raider Darren McFadden's Turkey Necks with Speckled Grits and Gravy.

These are recipes for game days and not game days, but they're all for a good cause, says Liz Brown, director of Taste of the NFL. Started by Wayne Kostroski in 1992 in Minneapolis (where she lives), the group has since raised $6.8 million for food banks in NFL cities around the country that share in the proceeds.

Fans pay to attend the big tasting party, where they can hobnob with players, both active and retired. (At the 2008 Super Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., Pittsburgh was represented at the $500-and-up-per-person event by Chef Kevin Sousa, then at Bigelow Grille, and Steelers linebacker Andy Russell, a popular Taste of the NFL stalwart.)

Taste of the NFL also holds local fund-raisers in nine cities throughout the year. Cleveland's 10th is Sept. 22; a new one at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton is Sept. 23 (see tasteofthenfl.com).

Ms. Brown notes that while the hardcover cookbook is hitting booksellers this week, a smaller and cheaper ($11.95) softcover "bookazine" version will be in supermarkets and elsewhere later this fall.

It's appropriate that foodie parties, and a cookbook, can help people who don't get enough to eat, says Ms. Brown, and the sport couldn't be a better fit.

"Everybody loves football, and food just goes hand in hand with it."


Bob Batz Jr. can be reached at bbatz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1930. First Published September 4, 2008 4:00 AM


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